First look inside Sheffield art gallery set to reopen after major refurbishment - its first in ten years

This is the first look inside a Sheffield art gallery following a major transformation – and 18 months of closure.

Friday, 13th August 2021, 11:14 am

Graves Art Gallery on Surrey Street in the city centre will reopen on Friday September 3 following six months of renovation work to redecorate, re-clad the walls in galleries largely untouched since 1934, bring many artworks out of storage for new displays and showcase work with a fresh perspective on classic art.

The project, which forms the gallery’s first major redisplay in ten years, was made possible by funding of £455,000 from the Ampersand Foundation.

Work on the new lease of life at one of the city’s ‘cultural jewels’ began last year but was delayed by the Covid-19 pandemic and it is hoped could be a ‘stepping stone’ to more investment in the historic Central Library building in the future.

Refurbishment and re-hanging nears completion as Graves Art Gallery gets ready to reopen to the public

When visitors return next month, the first time the public will have been in the gallery since March 2020, they will see portraiture, landscape works and pieces which address the theme of identity.

Kim Streets, Chief Executive of Sheffield Museums Trust, said: “There is an opportunity with this project to demonstrate what we have and what we can be.

“The art belongs to the people of Sheffield.

"There is a mixture of contemporary and classic art, it provides different perspectives.

Refurbishment and re-hanging nears completion as Graves Art Gallery gets ready to reopen to the public

“Some pieces explore trauma, like Shot at Dawn.

"When you read the description of that, the piece gives you shivers.”

Leading contemporary artist Keith Piper, a member of the BLK Art Group, was invited to curate a space in the gallery, and included his 1984 work Seven Rages of Man, exploring the experience of the Black diaspora. Keith chose pieces from the city’s collection, including an anti-apartheid T-shirt and Royal Africa Company gold to display alongside and contrast his work.

Kim added: “It’s an exciting project. One third of the work will not have been hung when the gallery closed last year, and we will keep changing the collection over the years.

Refurbishment and re-hanging nears completion as Graves Art Gallery gets ready to reopen to the public

“We will work with children and young people, making work in response to to the collection, doing a deep study of the pieces, and co-curating.

“It will be an opportunity to come in and gain an understanding of the work. By 2022 we want a gallery that is developed with young people.”

The Graves venue did not reopen when Covid restrictions were eased in 2020 as the Central Library building was kept closed to the public.

Also that year, the Central Library was earmarked by owners Sheffield Council for a £9 million scheme to fix a backlog of repairs just one month after Kim warned ‘time was running out’ for the historic building.

Refurbishment and re-hanging nears completion as Graves Art Gallery gets ready to reopen to the public

In late 2017 the council outlined its ambition to turn the Central Library building into a 'cultural hub'. The proposal was revealed when the council admitted the premises would not be converted into a five-star hotel – an idea that was part of a failed £1 billion agreement with Chinese investor Sichuan Guodong Group.

Kim said this week: “The gallery still needs quite significant investment. “We need investment in the structure of the building, we need council support. We hope this is a stepping stone to arriving at a plan.”

Sculptor Mark Firth, an artist with Sheffield connections whose work will be on display at the gallery, works with aluminium to create pieces which play with light and space.

He said: “Art will say something to you. My work is timeless rather than absolutely current, it invokes the ancient as well as modern.”

Other debut displays include the first chance to see Pandemic Diary, a new series of drawings by Sheffield artist Phlegm, and a display on the theme of landscape.

Graves Art Gallery will be open Wednesday-Saturday from 10am-4pm after September 3. Entry is free and there is no need to book but Covid safety measures will be in place.

CEO Kim Streets at Graves Art Gallery as they prepare to reopen to the public

The Ampersand funding will also support further redisplays, conservation and work with schools and artists over the next four years.

The return of the gallery is one of the first milestones for Sheffield’s new unified museums trust, in which Museums Sheffield will merge with Sheffield Industrial Museums Trust, responsible for Abbeydale Industrial Hamlet, Kelham Island Museum and Shepherd Wheel.

It was opened in 1934 and named after its benefactor, the mail order magnate John George Graves.

Refurbishment and re-hanging nears completion as Graves Art Gallery gets ready to reopen to the public